I4i says not out to destroy Microsoft Word

Although it has won an injunction that could halt sales of Word in its current form, a small Canadian company says its goal is to build products, not kill a key part of Office.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read

The chairman of the company that has won a landmark injunction against Microsoft says his goal is not to see Microsoft Word pulled from store shelves.

In fact, I4i Chairman Loudon Owen said he is one of the hundreds of millions of people who uses Word and the other Microsoft Office tools every day.

I4i Chairman Loudon Owen McLean Watson

"We're not seeking to stop Microsoft's business and we're not seeking to interfere with all the users of Word out there," Owen said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. He added that this week's ruling orders an injunction only against Word shipping in a form that uses I4i's custom XML technology.

As noted earlier, Microsoft has several options, including legal appeals, pursuing a settlement, or recrafting Word in a way so that it doesn't infringe on I4i's technology.

Although he couldn't comment on such a technical workaround, Owen said he would be happy to see Microsoft come out with a version of Word that removes the infringing technology.

"The injunction is not saying there is no more Word for the world," Owen said. "That is not our intention and that would not be a sensible remedy."

The judge's ruling, in addition to upholding a $200 million monetary award from May, does issue an injunction against Microsoft that would bar Word in its current form, though. The ruling would go into effect in 60 days, unless Microsoft wins a stay as part of an appeal, which is currently in the works.

As for the size of the monetary verdict in the Word case, Owen wouldn't say how it compares to the company's annual revenue, but noted it is a big deal.

"It's obviously a material verdict by US patent verdict (standards), but we think it is fair," he said.

But Owen said I4i's focus is on its products, not on the courts. Owen said I4i's mission is trying to make database-ready all of the world's unstructured information. Only about 10 percent of data today is structured, but XML can change that.

The company, which has about 30 employees and has been running since 1993, has products in use by a number of large companies, including many large pharmaceutical names such as Amgen, Bayer and Biogen.

Interestingly, though, one of the company's biggest projects was its 2001 overhaul of the US Patent and Trademark Office's own Web site for patent submissions. The patent involved in its suit against Microsoft, though, was filed in 1994 and granted in 1998.

Owen said he couldn't comment on whether there have been any recent settlement talks. Asked whether there might be room for some sort of partnership between the two companies, Owen quipped: "Microsoft is too big for us to buy at this point."

He then added that the company's goal is to help structure the world's information and it will do whatever it takes to reach that goal. "We are always ready willing and able to partner with any good partner, whoever that is."

Owen, who is co-founder of the Mclean Watson venture capital firm that backs i4i, does have some experience negotiating with Microsoft. According to his bio on that firm's Web site, he helped finance and advice 3D animation firm Softimage, which was sold to Microsoft in 1994.